Trading Secrets

The history of baseball card collecting isn't as innocent as the game the cards are derived from. For a fascinating read, pick up Mint Condition: How Baseball Cards Became An American Obsession.

Courtesy of publisher.

The history of how baseball cards became a multibillion dollar industry is not quite as innocent or straightforward as the game these mass-manufactured pieces of cardboard titularly represent. In Mint Condition: How Baseball Cards Became An American Obsession (Atlantic Monthly Press), author and Denville native Dave Jamieson elucidates with smooth prose and fascinating tidbits of historical trivia just how the production of baseball cards became a major industry in our nation’s consumer-centric society.

The book documents in compelling detail the evolutionary arc of the card business, from its start in the post-Civil War era—when tobacco companies slipped images of ball players into packs of cigarettes in a clever, if insidious, marketing ploy—to its Depression-era blossoming and post-World War II boom.

Ultimately, the industry abandoned its traditional base—children and rabid baseball fans. It eventually became what it is today—a niche market for high-end investors who purchase cards priced by professional grading agencies at private auction houses. By flooding stores with more brands of cards than the market could support in an effort to maximize profits, companies alienated the very audience that allowed the industry to exist in the first place and devalued its product in the process. Jamieson peppers his narrative with stories of the eccentric characters and colorful personalities who made baseball-card collecting a cornerstone of Americana.

The book is an essential read for the baseball fan or anyone who remembers ripping into a wax pack, hoping that their childhood heros would be found inside.

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